28 May 2016


Ask Cool Tools Featured Questions

Kevin Kelly is searching for a website with the best electric car reviews. And Pamar was wondering if any readers ...

Kevin Kelly is searching for a website with the best electric car reviews.

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And Pamar was wondering if any readers had experience with Samsonite Paradiver backpacks?

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05/28/16 --

27 May 2016


Dino-Lite USB Microscope

Best USB Digital Microscope

I have an older model of the Dino-Lite AM4113T, a small USB microscope. I have been using this USB microscope for both work and home projects for the past several years. It has a magnification of 20x-50x and 200x with a 1.3MP resolution. For my work as an electrical engineer it is great for looking at and capturing solder joints on very small pitch components, very fine PCB trace routing, reading part codes off small components and looking at connector alignment/damage. For the home projects the kids have loved looking at tiny bugs, fingerprints and a whole array of common items that look much different when magnified 200x.

Dino-Lite offers a whole range of products depending how sophisticated you want to get. My older version does not have measurement capabilities, but it seems all the newer ones do. They also have built-in lighting that is more than sufficient. Of all the tools I have purchased for work, this one has given me the most value for the money. It is very easy to use with the supplied software, which is available for both Windows and Mac. I have only used the Windows software so I can only comment on that version.

05/27/16 -- Matt Schirmacher

26 May 2016


What’s in My Bag? — Jim Lanhan

A retiree shares what's in his "old man" bag

I’d like you to consider my somewhat different submission to the What’s In Your Bag column — an “Old Retired Guy Carry” — from the top, clockwise:

Cree 7w 300 LM flashlight. Very bright for the size, complete with one of those fancy flesh-tearing bezels which should come in handy in the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse. Or when I’m desperately trying to break into a bag of Funyuns. Whichever comes first.

Cross aluminum bodied gel pen. Works good, feels good, writes well on paper, maybe on other stuff too. Well, what exactly would you want beyond that?

Cadillac CTS-V key fob. Wanna race, kid? You got a Subaru your mom let you hang a big exhaust pipe on? You’re going to be very surprised.

iPhone 4s, filled to it’s 64 gig brim with music and podcasts. I’m still not impressed enough with the 6’s and it’s not like I watch movies on it on anything. I’ll wait for the 7 and see what that’s like.

Phonak hearing aids. Just about invisible as they get. You youngsters may snicker, but at 4 grand the pop I can tune into — or more usually, out of — your conversations from across the room. Also allows me to Bluetooth phone messages and music from my iPhone without anyone knowing otherwise. What, you thought I moved like that because I was old, senile and doofy? Nope, gotta blame it on Springsteen and the Stones this time. And, of course, a large dose of innate doofyness.

CRKT rapid opening folder knife, a joy to hold and use. I’ve questioned why I bother to carry a knife like this. I mean, it’s just a tiny bit excessive, you know? But the last time I used it, I mean really used it for something other than slitting open an Amazon box, I was cutting away 50 years of untended grass off my father’s grave while visiting Detroit. Just for that, well worth the carry.

Marley-Hodgson Ghurka wallet. I gotta say it, Ghurka makes some of the best leather goods this country has ever seen. Company’s been around for a 100 years and their products are well worth the hefty price.

Rolex DateJust, rare 3/4 size on account of the wrists I inherited from my mother. Smooth bezel, Jubilee bracelet and which I’ve worn almost daily since 1979. Only had to have it serviced once. Just a quality piece of work.

The very same eye glass frames I wore in the early 80’s non-ironically but now fitted with trick self-dimming, no-line bifocals which I’ve almost convinced myself I can pass for a much younger hipster.

All sitting on my long-time companion, a no-brand name leather bag I bought more than 20 years ago, which was vintage even then. I’ve had the interior re-done, in a really soft flannel that you’d want to crawl up in on a cold, rainy night if you could. Put a new Ghurka strap on it and it suits me just fine. Right size, just enough pockets and, best of all, I’ve never seen another like it. I’ve actually had people ask me if they could touch it. Everyone else’s seems just so new, you know what I mean?

05/26/16 -- Jim Lanhan aka "txinkman"

26 May 2016


Clutch Pencil Set

Artist's lead holder with a built in sharpener

I use this pencil in the shop, where it marks wood and other things. It is like a mechanical pencil on steroids. The lead is about 3 inches long and 5.6mm in diameter. It’s furnished with a sharpened lead with a conical tip. There’s no pocket clip, but it goes well in my pants pocket. The lead (soft graphite) is rugged and only chips if dropped. There’s a sharpener built into the silver pushbutton cap. The sharpener will return the tip of the lead to a perfect conical point. The tool comes in a flat tin box with three replacement leads and a kneaded rubber eraser.

05/26/16 -- Tom O'Brien

25 May 2016


Switch Lock for Light Switch

Securely locks any standard light switch in the on or off position

I came across this wonderful device in a little dusty bin on the counter of my local hardware store, and I think I frightened the clerk with my enthusiasm to find it. I had several situations where I needed a simple way to prevent a toggle-style light switch from being used, both at home and the office. This cool tool prevented scores of goose-chases when folks at work thought their equipment had broken when it suddenly stopped working for no apparent reason but it was only the switch-controlled outlet. At home, it locked out a three-way light switch that ended up behind the countertop microwave and occasionally got flipped, resulting in lots of trips up an down ladders to replace perfectly good light bulbs in the ceiling fixture.

This simple, clear plastic device mounts on the outside of the switch plate using the switch plate screw and physically prevents the switch from moving. You can mount it to keep the switch on or off, and it is easily removable with a screwdriver. Clear plastic works with any décor!

05/25/16 -- Laura Hoffman

24 May 2016


Dan Benjamin, Founder of 5by5

Cool Tools Show 055: Dan Benjamin

Dan Benjamin is a podcaster, writer, software developer, and ex-corporate stooge. He is the founder of 5by5, a podcast network where he hosts a handful of shows. He is the author of baconmethod.com and hivelogic.com, and has written for A List Apart and O’Reilly. Dan lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their children.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Staedtler Mars Mechanical Pencil ($6) and Sharpener
“This could be called an architect’s pencil or a draftsman’s pencil or a lead holder is the name that I’ve always used for it. … What’s nice about it is it’s lightweight … but it’s got that nice metal grippiness to it. … Instead of being like a regular mechanical pencil where you click the end of it and it advances the lead millimeter by millimeter out, this thing you can control. When you press down the button end of it, as much lead as you would like to slide out can slide out. … A supplemental item is the Mars Rotary Action Lead Pointer and Tub, which allows you to put the lead holder in there. It presets how much of a point you want based on these two little holes that you adjust it to, and then you spin it. … I encourage people to write and draw with a pencil. It’s the most fun thing in the world.”

Telefunken M82 Dynamic Microphone ($399) “This is my microphone of choice these days. I have used so many different microphones over the years. I started podcasting back in 2006. … I care a lot about the microphone. … This was maybe the fifth or sixth microphone that I’d tried. When I try one, I tend to try to use it for several months. This one I’ve been using now for about a year, and I just love it. It really meets with my voice I think really well. What’s nice about it is it was originally designed as a kick drum mic. If you were mic’ing up a drum set, you would put this microphone in front of or even inside of the kick drum. As weird as that may sound, some of the most widely used microphones for voice in broadcasting actually were originally designed or designed in part to also be kick drum kind of a mic or a mic for a drum.”

Vitamix 5300 Blender ($430)
“First of all, I have to tell you how I came to have a blender that is this absurdly expensive in my possession … I started getting into the idea of making smoothies in the morning for breakfast … and I said to my wife, ‘I think I want to try making them at home.’ She says, ‘Well, you know we have a blender that could do that.’ I said, ‘You mean like the one we got when we got married, like a million years ago?’ She’s like, ‘No. We have a really nice blender. It’s a professional level Vitamix blender.’ I’m like, ‘Where is it?’ She’s like, ‘It’s in the box in the garage.’ I’m like, ‘Why is it out there?’ She’s like, ‘It was so expensive that I was going to return it. I just bought it not long ago and I felt like there’s no sane reason I should have spent this much money on a blender.’ … I said, ‘All right, let me try it.’ I tried it and the smoothie that I made — the world stopped and everything went dark and a spotlight went down on the smoothie. It was the best thing in the world. I was full. I was full all day. I had energy. I lifted a car off of a fire hydrant in the garage. It was amazing what I was able to do. I said, ‘Don’t you dare return. I’m keeping this thing.’ She’s like, ‘All right. We can keep it.’ A week later I’ve been making smoothies all week long. It’s been the most amazing thing. … Anything blends in this.”

Steelcase Series 7 Height-Adjustable Desk ($1,449) and Mat
“I got this desk is because years ago I started dealing with chronic lower back issues … As a result of that, my doctor said, “One thing you should really consider doing is instead of spending most of the day sitting, you could spend a significant part of the day standing,” but you still want to sit. …. I went with Steelcase because at the time that I got it that was the desk that you get. Now there are lots of other alternatives for sit-stand desks, but I still really like the Steelcase one, because it’s just made so rock-solid. The motors in it are super, super solid and strong. You can have your big, fancy monitors up on top of it. In my case I even have a rack with a whole bunch of audio gear on top of it and a screen. It lifts us up and down, no problem.”

05/24/16 --


img 05/24/16


Fizes leaky pipes, broken tools, broken frames, fishing poles, tent poles, etc.

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Engineers Field Book

Notebook with extra stiff orange hardbound cover


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Share your knowledge with your fellow Cool Tools readers.

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SlipIt Sliding Compound

Lubricant for any combination of metals, plastic and wood

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What's in My Bag? 26 May 2016


What’s in My Bag? — Jim Lanhan

A retiree shares what’s in his “old man” bag

Announcements: 05/15/16


Feedly is a great way to read Cool Tools

A couple of years ago, hundreds of thousands of our readers read Cool Tools using Google Reader, an RSS aggregator. But when Google pulled the plug on Reader, tens of thousands of our readers didn’t bother to resubscribe by using a different RSS reader.

Kevin and I are both RSS junkies. It’s the way we read all our blogs. And the reader we use is Feedly. It’s evolved over the years and now it is better than Google Reader ever was. The free version is excellent (I have no reason to pay $5 a month for the premium version).

I recommend reading Cool Tools via Feedly. We offer the full text of every post, not just an excerpt. Give it a try and I think you’ll understand why 61 thousand people read Cool Tools readers through Feedly.

About Cool Tools

Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.


Kevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.


Mark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).


Claudia Lamar runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.